Good Reads – A Visit From the Goon Squad

I know it’s been a while since my last Good Reads post, but this book has brought things back to life! Jennifer Egan’s novel A Visit From the Goon Squad has been one of the most captivating things I’ve read all year. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The accolades are justifiably awarded to this incredible and moving piece of work. If you only read one thing in the next 6 months, this should be it.

The book has the continuity and flow of a novel, yet each chapter focuses on a different character and outlines a separate voice and writing style – all of them capable of standing alone. This unique narrative structure allows the reader to feel a connection to each individual chapter as though it were a short story, while simultaneously enjoying the intricate nature of the entire novel. The characters’ stories revolve around the world of the rock music industry, weaving in and out of different time frames that span from the late sixties to the near future. Relationships are explained from multiple points of view, at different moments in life.

Though the structure changes with each chapter, the themes are powerfully recurring. Egon explores the emotions of youth and innocence lost, the conflict of getting old and adapting to a changing world, and the idea that time and fate can often rob a person of their potential and what makes them truly happy. The central metaphor of being robbed by time gives the book its title. Goon squads were groups of violent thugs who threatened and beat those apposed to political corruption and labor unions. (Remember Newsies?) In one chapter of the book a has-been musician named Bosco is dealing with his demise and states that “Time’s a goon, right?” This notion of time robbing most of Egon’s characters of their youth and success is extremely potent throughout the novel. Those characters who do find happiness realize how fleeting it can be.

I recommend this read with two huge thumbs up. It was incredible and I couldn’t put it down. We actually decided to read the book with a couple of friends and formed a mini book club. We discussed our options as a group, narrowed them down to the top 5, and chose this book for our premier piece.¬† I can’t wait to host our first book club meeting this weekend to discuss.

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